The Evolving Role of the CMO

Three CMOs discuss how to thrive in an increasingly digital world.

Part one of a two-part series in which Pegasystems CMO Grant Johnson sits down with other CMOs and Industry experts to talk about burning issues that are top-of-mind for B2B and B2C marketers.

The CMO role is rapidly transforming, in large part due to how fast social, mobile, cloud, and Big Data mega trends are becoming pervasive and changing the very nature of business. For this first installment, I spoke with three CMOs to better understand the most significant aspects of the new CMO role and what it takes to succeed in an increasingly digital world. David Cooperstein, vice president, CMO Practice Director, Forrester Research; John Ellett, CEO of nFusion and author of The CMO Manifesto; and John Neeson, managing director and co-founder, Sirius Decisions.

It became clear during the course of several dynamic conversations I've had recently that six key elements define the essence of the modern CMO: old versus new, marketing science, marketing technologist, organizational alignment, becoming a business partner, and being customer driven.

How well these elements are put into practice can largely determine whether he or she will succeed in shaping company success, or be relegated to the historical role of merely owning branding and communications. I share many of the same views that my counterparts voiced, and there are many take-aways from each interview.

In the first part of this series, I will cover the first three key elements: old versus new, marketing science, and marketing technologist.

Old versus new

The old CMO was focused primarily on corporate marketing and strategic communications, without full operational responsibility or a regular seat at the table in the C-suite. According to Neeson, the new CMO is a "more cross-functional role that touches every part of the business. "CMOs now must be constantly looking at things and evaluating from a strategy standpoint to determine what they can do better," he says.

To succeed in the new world requires not only a firm grip on navigating the complexity of the business environment, but also, according to Ellett, the ability to influence C-suite peers and "share insights across the organization that help shape both corporate strategy and operational excellence."

It's a balancing act to maintain an operational focus that keeps the engine running smoothly, while regularly looking over the horizon to what's coming next, what to pay attention to, and what to ignore, but the new CMO is figuring out how to do enough of both to increase impact on organizational growth and success. It's not for everyone, and becoming increasingly more digital and influential in business operations and outcomes is invigorating for many of us who are renewed in this process of evolving.

Marketing science

In the old days, many marketers could assert that "half of my marketing spend works, but I just don't know which half." The rise of digital media combined with the ability to measure the effectiveness of the increasing amount of digital marketing spend means that marketers are now being held far more accountable for the results of marketing expenditures. But it goes beyond just measuring marketing ROI. Modern marketers need to become experts at understanding digital customer behaviors and in data mining so they can architect a customer strategy that maximizes the efficiency of how their company targets, acquires, and grows customers, and increases market share. We are in the customer-driven era and the age of customer empowerment.

According to Ellett, "This dramatic shift in power to the voice of the customer" means that marketing needs to become more scientific, and marketing needs to lead the company to "build out the capability organization-wide to be more responsive to customer voice and experience."

Ellet continues, "Marketers have traditionally been quite strong at persuasive communications and ideation. The best ones have also excelled at understanding the customer mindset and leveraging agency partners to drive demand and increase influence. The new CMO must now become as adept at analytics and data-based decision-making as they have been at the more subjective art of branding and communications."

Cooperstein adds, "Today, more than ever before, CMOs are being held fully accountable for the results of marketing activities. This means we have to be more metrics oriented. A lot more is required. We're seeing that working together is much better than working apart."

Neeson, too, agrees, noting CMOs must not just "measure results, but also effectively communicate marketing's value." Becoming more scientific can be daunting, however, having the evidence to objectively demonstrate marketing's contribution to the business can also be very empowering.

Marketing technologist

From a career path perspective, marketers traditionally have educational backgrounds rooted mostly in liberal arts, fine arts, and communications, rather than science. Some have progressed or transitioned into marketing careers from a more technical underpinning, such as computer science or engineering, especially in technology markets. With the rapidly increasing role that technology plays in helping companies optimize their operations, engage with and convert customers, and build lifetime customer value, technology adroitness is now a mandate that all marketers can't ignore.

According to analyst firm Gartner, by 2017, CMOs will spend more on technology than CIOs. Regardless of whether this prediction comes true, marketers have no choice but to become well-versed in technology. They need to not only understand the broad range of technologies that can help the company compete more effectively (e.g. predictive analytics, social media monitoring, marketing automation), but also how to create a technology adoption roadmap. Except for CMOs starting out at new companies, most of us have a technology infrastructure that is a collection of capabilities and not fully capable or integrated to serve current business mandates. So it's now required to closely partner with CIO peers to articulate a cogent roadmap to acquiring, improving, and integrating marketing technologies that help the company meet its strategic objectives.

As Ellett states, "Technology has changed the way customers interact with information and how they choose to interact with companies," so CMOs must now drive how technology is utilized, just as they drive marketing strategy and tactics, to ensure their company can successfully engage with the more empowered, digital, and social customer.

Because of these reasons and more, there's been no better time to be a CMO. Sure, current-day challenges are formidable. But as all three interviewees note, the stakes are much higher in this era of digital marketing, and marketing has an increased ability to demonstrate intrinsic value to the entire organization.

In the second installment, I'll focus on how this new approach is driving several things, including tighter alignment of marketing, and the expanding role that customers are playing in marketing strategies, tactics, and more.

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